WINNER OF THE 2020 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE
A stark and gripping tale of childhood grief from one of the most exciting new voices in Dutch literature
Ten-year-old Jas lives with her strictly religious parents and her siblings on a dairy farm where waste and frivolity are akin to sin. Despite the dreary routine of their days, Jas has a unique way of experiencing her world: her face soft like cheese under her mother’s hands; the texture of green warts, like capers, on migrating toads in the village; the sound of “blush words” that aren’t in the Bible.
One icy morning, the disciplined rhythm of her family’s life is ruptured by a tragic accident, and Jas is convinced she is to blame. As her parents’ suffering makes them increasingly distant, Jas and her siblings develop a curiosity about death that leads them into disturbing rituals and fantasies. Cocooned in her red winter coat, Jas dreams of “the other side” and of salvation, not knowing where this dreaming will finally lead her.
A bestseller in the Netherlands, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s radical debut novel The Discomfort of Evening offers readers a rare vision of rural and religious life in the Netherlands. In it, they ask: In the absence of comfort and care, what can the mind of a child invent to protect itself? And what happens when that is not enough? With stunning psychological acuity and images of haunting, violent beauty, Rijneveld has created a captivating world of language unlike any other.
Rijneveld's head-turning debut, a bestseller in their native Netherlands and a Booker International Prize nominee, puts a contemporary spin on classic wrath-of-God literature. Narrated by Jas, the prepubescent farm daughter of Dutch Reformists (Calvinist cousins to American Evangelicalism), the novel opens with the death of Jas's oldest brother, Matthies, who drowns in an ice-skating accident. His demise unspools an already dubious family harmony. The father grows distant; the mother, emaciated and portentous, claims Matthies's death to be a sign of the 10th biblical plague. . Another plague is referenced with the spread of foot-and-mouth disease in the livestock, and Jas tortures toads into mating, convinced it will help her parents to do the same. Meanwhile, Jas and her younger sister, Hanna, make plans to run away, while their older brother, Odde, devolves into a sadistic teenager. Like a scene in a Bosch painting, the macabre material is loaded with sexual transgressions, pedophilia, animal torture, and abuse. The onslaught can be numbing, but the translation's soaring lyricism offers mercy for the reader. In another biblical plague, absolute darkness descended upon the land for three days. Here it lasts for almost 300 pages, not lifting until the final line.